9 Unreliable Narrators

9 Unreliable Narrators
June 14, 2016 No Comments » For Authors, Writing Advice J.K. Allen

One way to make a powerful plot twist is to employ the use of an unreliable narrator. Usually this is a first person POV where the narrator willfully or unknowingly lies to the reader or hides information. This can lead to plot twists and surprise endings when the reliability of the narrator is called into question and revealed. Let’s explore some different unreliable narrators.

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  1. The narrator out to save his own skin. This narrator lies to save his life or to get and keep out of trouble. Think Verbal Kint from The Usual Suspects.
  2. The narrator looking for forgiveness. This narrator plays on the emotions of the reader looking for sympathy and redemption from what they’ve done. Think Humbert from Lolita.
  3. The disturbed narrator. This narrator is going through difficult times, trauma, or is experiencing a mind altering complication like being on drugs. This calls their version of reality into question. Think Holden from The Catcher in the Rye.
  4. The delusional narrator. This narrator experiences hallucinations or other condition that makes them unreliable. Be careful to foreshadow their condition so the ending doesn’t feel like a cheat. Think Chief Bromden from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
  5. The psychotic narrator. This narrator may have a mental illness or personality disorder which makes it hard to differentiate truth in their versions of reality. Think Patrick Bateman from American Psycho.
  6. The tall tales narrator. This narrator embellishes the facts to spin a spectacular tale, but what can the reader take as pure fact among all the elaboration? Think Pi from Life of Pi.
  7. The narrator who’s repressed the truth. The narrator hides a secret because they’ve repressed the memory. This can lead to a powerful reveal when the reader and character discovers the truth. Think Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower.mikegi / Pixabay
  8. The innocent narrator/the child. This narrator is too naïve to pick up on everything going on around them. They don’t understand what is happening enough to be reliable. Think Huck from Huckleberry Finn.
  9. The other worldly narrator. This narrator is from the supernatural but can we really believe the dead? Was he really a ghost or a figment of imagination? These questions comprise the other worldly narrator. Think Dr. Malcom Crowe from The Sixth Sense.

These are some unreliable narrators you can use to add suspense and a twist to your story. Foreshadowing is crucial for a  truly successful plot twist so be sure to plant clues that your narrator is unreliable and plant clues of the truth throughout your story to prepare your reader for the twist and make it believable. Do you have any tips for unreliable narrators? What’s your favorite unreliable narrator? Comment below and happy writing.


Follow my blog and my Twitter for more tips and inspiration and find me on Facebook for weekly prompts and stories.

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J.K. Allen Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.

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